In my column on Aug. 26, I commented on a perception by two observers that gray squirrels may be declining. I began paying attention to squirrels on my property, and I also perceived an apparent decline. Meanwhile, I received a call from Dr. Jan Bartels, who read my column, and said he doubted if the observed declines were the result of a disease. He suspects that food scarcity may cause squirrels to migrate in search of places where food may be more readily available. I believe he is correct, and I’ll tell you why.
The dominant trees around my house are white oaks, with a scattering of water oaks and other tree species. Normally, white oaks produce acorns on alternate years, and white oak acorns are especially attractive to squirrels. Three years ago, my white oaks produced an abundance of acorns. Almost every day during several late summer and early fall weeks that year I could pick up a quart jar full of acorns that fell on my deck from overhanging white oaks. The following year, as expected, none were produced.
Last year, none were produced either, the failure attributable, I suspect, to the severe summer drought. I’m beginning to believe that few or none will be produced this year. Water oaks normally produce acorns in abundance every year, but from every indication acorns from these oaks may be in short supply this year.
The severity of droughty conditions varies considerably from one place to another in the Opelika-Auburn area. The other day, a friend of ours, Dr. Jenni Spencer, who lives in White Oak subdivision, told me the white oaks around her house were producing an abundant crop of acorns, and she sees numerous squirrels. I am reasonably certain that substantially more rain has fallen during the past several months in her neighborhood than it has where I live.